Eden Park awaits titanic tussle
September 12, 2013
Kieran Read was colossal for the All Blacks last weekend © Getty Images
The best two sides in the world come face-to-face in Auckland on Saturday with the All Blacks hosting the Springboks in what looks certain to be a truly memorable Test.
South Africa are currently at the top of the Rugby Championship rankings with three wins from three. Rounds one and two of the southern hemisphere tournament saw the Springboks come away from their games against Argentina with two victories and significant momentum. Their tag as potential tournament champions was further emphasised by their commanding win over Australia last Saturday.
It was a performance packed with power and accuracy with their physicality really coming to the fore. But something will have to give in Auckland on Saturday and the All Blacks will be going all out to re-enforce their status as the world's number one rugby side.
Head to Head
Such is the embarrassment of riches at their disposal that they will go into the game on Saturday confident of downing the in-form Boks side despite not having Richie McCaw at their disposal as he is out injured. While the Boks have made the headlines for some commanding performances, the Kiwis are as ruthless as ever and made light work of the Pumas last weekend in atrocious conditions. It was a win which stands alongside their round one and two triumphs over old foes the Wallabies with their victories coming having barely broken sweat.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Over the first three rounds of the championship Steven Luatua has been one of the tournament's best players. It seems ridiculously harsh that he has been dropped in favour of Liam Messam for this game but the Chiefs flanker, prior to his injury, was arguably playing the best rugby of his career. He has helped inspire the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles and should be a key player in Saturday's game.
New Zealand - Team News: Luatua makes way for Messam while Sam Cane replaces injured captain McCaw at openside flanker and Dane Coles starts at hooker with 105-Test veteran Keven Mealamu to provide impact from the bench. Owen Franks returns to make his 50th Test and inside centre Ma'a Nonu is fit again after missing the Argentina Test to rehabilitate an ankle problem. Charlie Faumuina moves to the bench to make way for Franks, joining Luatua, who is covering lock and loose forward, and injury-replacement openside flanker Matt Todd. Kieran Read will captain the team in his 55th Test.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Francois Louw received the Man of the Match award last Saturday and lines up again at openside. With McCaw injured, the Bath man is probably the best No.7 in world rugby at the moment and is in a rich vein of form.
Will Bryan Habana have the Kiwis on a piece of string? © Getty Images
South Africa - Team News: Heyneke Meyer has named an unchanged 23-man squad for the match with Jean de Villiers captain.
Key Battle: A lot of attention will be on the battle in the back-row but we are looking forward to seeing Sam Whitelock come up against Eben Etzebeth in the second-row. Both are young but immensely talented locks and should reach three figures worth of caps by the end of their careers.
Trivia: If South Africa win on Saturday, they will become the No.1 side in the world, according to the IRB rankings. The All Blacks have been at the summit of the rankings for 82 per cent of the time since they were introduced back in 2003 but any win from the Boks will see them leap to the top.
Stats: The Kiwis have an incredible record at Eden Park. They currently have 30 consecutive victories under their belt at the Auckland ground and will hope to extend that feat on Saturday.
Betting: South Africa are 13/5 with bet365 to break All Blacks' hearts and win at Eden Park on Saturday. But if you fancy the Kiwis to replicate their 20-point victory over the Boks the last time the two met in Auckland, then you can get 7/1.
"The physical challenge will be huge - as it always it is - and the team that executes their game with the greatest effectiveness, clarity and intensity will be the one that comes out on top." - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
"I try to think about their team but usually I have nightmares so I'd rather think about our team and what we have to do." - Heyneke Meyer on the threat of the All Blacks
Prediction: The All Blacks will emerge from the Test with four wins from four but they will have a couple of scares along the way.
Follow live text commentary of the Test between New Zealand and South Africa on Saturday, September 14, from 5pm (AEST), 7pm (NZT), 9am (SAST), 7am (GMT)
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.